City Council approves apartment complex at First, West Washington streets

BY THOMAS CHAN
Daily Staff Writer
Published December 1, 2008

During its meeting yesterday night, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously approved plans to build an apartment building and garage at the southeast corner of First and West Washington streets.

The move will replace the parking lot that currently sits in that space.

The proposed nine-story building, to be named Ann Arbor City Apartments, is slated to have 156 apartments and 244 public parking spaces.

The building is part of a partnership between the city of Ann Arbor and Farmington Hills-based developer Village Green Companies. Ann Arbor currently owns the parking lot and will also own the garage. Village Green will own the apartments and finance the construction.

While Village Green Companies describes itself as “a large developer and manager of luxury apartment communities,” the proposed complex will have at least 10 percent of its units dedicated to affordable housing.

“These people do affordable housing on site, which is really positive,” said Councilmember Sabra Briere (D-Ward 1). “And it’s important that there be affordable housing downtown. Really important.”

Many who were involved with City Apartments’ planning were satisfied with negotiations for the City Apartments’ construction plans. That wasn't the case with the controversial 601 Forest project. 601 Forest, a high-rise apartment complex planned for the corner of South Forest and South University avenues, angered local groups who said the project would draw too much traffic and be too tall for its surroundings.

“From the outset, they met with neighboring groups repeatedly and probably more than most developers do,” said Councilmember Margie Teall (D-Ward 4) of City Apartments.

The developers addressed a variety of residents’ concerns since Ann Arbor first searched for developers in 2005, said Jon Frank, vice president of development for Village Green. Concerns included exterior lighting, the materials that would be used to build the garage and the style of the windows on the parking deck, he said.

“It wasn’t a negotiation,” Frank said, describing his meetings with involved parties as a source of ideas to improve the building plans. “The community groups have some great ideas. So it was a pleasure. It’s truly a pleasure. These have been allies of ours.”

Comments about the project were generally positive, as just one person opposed the project. Supporters of the plan included Barbara Hall of The Old West Side Association, a neighboorhood group, and Councilmember Sandi Smith (D-Ward 1).

Frank said Village Green hopes to start construction soon, but has had difficulty securing the loans needed to do so. Smith said Village Green hasn't yet asked the city to help with financing the project.

COUNCIL OKS CONSTRUCTION OF SKATEBOARD PARK

The City Council also unanimously approved plans to fund construction of an outdoor skateboarding park at Veterans Memorial Park on the west side of Ann Arbor.

The move marks an important step in a multi-year effort by local activists to create a legal space for skateboarding in Ann Arbor, which is against the law on campus and can result in fines and confiscation of skateboards.

Dozens of supporters, including some from outside the city, attended the meeting in anticipation of the motion. They cheered loudly, briefly interrupting the meeting when the motion passed.

“It’s a positive thing to have a legal way to skate,” said Brett Pickett, co-owner of the Jackson-based Native Board Shop.

UPDATE ON CITY'S WATER CONSERVATION, ENERGY PLAN

City Council also hosted an update on the City’s on the Ann Arbor Municipal Center project, by Bill Wheeler, major projects manager for Ann Arbor.

The project is slated to create an add-on building to City Hall to house the Ann Arbor Police and to renovate some of City Hall’s floors. Among the plan’s features, the city has placed a strong emphasis on the environmental impact of new center.

Wheeler said the city hopes to use all rainwater that falls on the building for the center’s gardens by building some rooftop gardens and a reservoir for a planned south-side garden to draw rainwater from. Wheeler also said that the city expects to save 25 percent of the energy that would be used by a similar building without the planned energy saving features.

Ann Arbor will begin collecting bids for various parts of the construction today.